SANTA CLARA, Calif. - San Francisco 49ers CEO Jed York and general manager Trent Baalke faced the media Monday, less than 24 hours after parting with Jim Harbaugh as the team's head coach.
York called the split between the organization and one of its most successful coaches in franchise history a "mutual decision."
"Jim and I have had conversations since he's been here, but in the last probably two or three weeks we've talked about it, we've talked about different scenarios, different opportunities, and ultimately we just came to the conclusion that it was best for us to go in different directions," York said.
"We've had philosophical discussions and when we sat down we just couldn't come to a place where we thought moving together, together was the best for either party. This wasn't us saying, 'Jim, you're fired, you're not here anymore.' This wasn't Jim saying, 'I don't want to be there, I'm leaving.' It was a discussion that took place over a decent amount of time to figure out what's best for everybody involved. It was the conclusion that we came to, it wasn't an easy conclusion for anybody, but that's where we ended up."
Since Harbaugh jumped from Stanford to the NFL in 2011, he had unprecedented success, reaching the conference title games in his first three seasons, including a berth in the Super Bowl in 2012. It came while grooming first-year starting quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who quickly became a star in the league, winning four of his first six career playoff games.
Harbaugh led the 49ers to the second most wins in the league since taking over (49, including the postseason), trailing only Bill Belichick's New England Patriots over that span. Harbaugh's team won in New England in Dec. of 2012, before playing the Super Bowl less than two months later.
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"This organization has had to replace some awfully good head coaches in the past and Jim is no different, a very successful coach," Baalke said. "Are we confident that we can replace him? You always go into that with that strategy. There's a lot of good football coaches out there. What we need to do is go out and find a coach that can come in here now and lead this football team. We're not in a rebuild. This isn't a rebuild situation, this is a reload situation. We've got a lot of confidence in this team, the players in that locker room and we're going to need to make some adjustments. We realize that. What Jed said is so true, there's always philosophical differences, there always is. Every organization has them. For whatever reason we weren't able to pull this thing together and now it's time to move on. We're confident in our ability to do that."
The "philosophical differences" Baalke mentioned were a hot topic during the season, with national reports implicating there was friction between Harbaugh and the front office. But those weren't the only distractions the team dealt with in 2014.
Ray McDonald was arrested for domestic violence and allowed to play for most of the season before the Santa Clara District Attorney's office declined to file charges. McDonald started 14 games for the 49ers, before he was implicated in a second investigation of a crime against a woman. San Francisco promptly released McDonald the same day reports of the second investigation surfaced Dec. 17.
"Ray McDonald was ultimately my decision to not do anything," York said. "It was. When his first issue came up, he was not charged with anything. We sat down with Ray, and said, ‘Ray, whether you’re guilty or not, you can’t put yourself in these types of situations.’ And very shortly after that, he did that again.
"You need to make sure people are accountable. That’s up to me. We might not win the Super Bowl every year, but we can conduct ourselves with class. And we can conduct ourselves in a way that makes me proud. And there are things that - I would put that on me, I’m not putting this on Jim, please understand this."
The themes of Monday's 51-minute press conferences were accountability, winning with class, and the Lombardi Trophy being the only goal of consequence.
"If we aren’t winning a Super Bowl, you should hold me accountable. You should jump down my throat. I welcome that, and I’m ready for the challenge,” York said.
York mentioned class a few different times Monday, bringing up Harbaugh's early years when the 49ers reached the playoffs in his first three seasons. Harbaugh quickly earned the reputation and being brash and bumptious, particularly with the media and on the sideline berating referees.
"When you go from not getting to the playoffs for ten years, and you get there in year one of a coaches tenure, even if they have hard discussions, you need to find a way to continue to get better," York said. "And I would say for me personally, there are things that I didn’t necessarily like - year one, year two, year three, that you don’t speak more loudly on because you win. And that’s my failure."
Unlike 2011, when the 49ers hired Harbaugh, the pool of coaching candidates does not feature a high-profile candidate. York and Baalke would not discuss specific candidates, but reports have surfaced of the team seeking permission to speak with Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDonials, Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, and Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase.
But the favorite to land the position has been on the 49ers' staff since 2007 - defensive line coach Jim Tomsula - who will reportedly interview for the position.
"I want a teacher," York said. "I think what made Bill Walsh so successful is that he was a great teacher. Whether that was players, or whether that was other coaches. When you look at his successful coaching tree, when you look at the 49ers Hall of Fame down the road, you want to say that as of 2012 or 2013, 29 of the 32 coaches of the NFL have either a direct or indirect relationship with Bill.
"That’s was made this organization successful. You’re able to transition from one three-time winning Super Bowl head coach, to another two-time winning Super Bowl head coach, and there were many other tentacles beyond that. What I want to be sure we have is we have somebody that understands that level of teaching, understands how to get more out of less, and continue to build an organization that wins both on and off the field."
What kind of teacher is Jim Harbaugh?
"I thought Jim was great with our quarterbacks," York said. "I thought he did a lot of great things from a teaching standpoint."
As far as a time frame on a new hire, the 49ers are hoping to get their new leading man at some point over the next few weeks. Baalke will be in charge of the search, as he was when Harbaugh was hired in four years ago.
"This is going to be a search we’re going to conduct with a small group of people involved. A very small group," Baalke said. "And we’re going to spend the next several weeks interviewing, seven to 10 days, hopefully. And then hopefully be in a position to make a decision at that point in time. But we’re going to take as long as necessary to make sure we have the right person in place."